Rising Number of Indigenous Professionals But Still Unfinished Business
27 July 2017 at 11:38 am
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have a history of entrepreneurship and engaging with the mainstream economy but constitutional reform remains unfinished business, according to author, journalist and special adviser to the Prime Minister on Indigenous constitutional recognition, Stan Grant.
Delivering the inaugural Diversity Council Australia’s Diversity and Inclusion Oration on Wednesday, Grant spoke of a rapidly expanding Aboriginal middle class that was “increasingly university educated, entrepreneurial and contributing extraordinary talent to Australian business and political life”.
“Sixty five percent of Aboriginal people are now living lives that are materially and socio-economically like those of other Australians,” Grant said.
“This is a story our media doesn’t always tell. It is a story of how between 1996 and 2006, the Indigenous professional class, university educated, grew by 75 per cent…. In 1991, there were fewer than 4,000 Indigenous university graduates… By 2001, there were more than 30,000 Aboriginal university graduates. That number is expected to double in the next 20 years.”
Grant said the rise of a successful Aboriginal professional class, however, overlooked fundamental issues that still needed to be addressed.
“Seeing this as an issue of closing the gap, a socio-economic story, can obscure the other part of the equation – justice and rights. We could all be millionaires, and our claim to our rightful place in this country as the First Peoples of this country would not be diminished,” he said.
“We are the First People of this land. Invaded, dispossessed, segregated, locked out of the dream and suffering still. We have not had a final settlement. Australia, again, 50 years after 1967, is facing the question of recognition, constitutional reform. In states like Victoria, South Australia, treaty processes are underway. And they ask us a simple question, ‘Do we have the leadership and the maturity to resolve these issues of our history?’
“I can stand here as a person who has lived a successful life, a person who lives a privileged life, but a person who belongs to a people whose rightful place in this country still goes unrecognised. Success in individual achievement is our right, but without that final settlement, is it just another form of assimilation? Is just saying that when you graduate from university, when you have good jobs, when you have a mortgage, when your kids are in private school, you’re just like the rest of us? But we are not like the rest of you. This is our place.
“For all of you in the room, this is the only home, truly, we will ever have. By resolving those issues, I can put at peace the bones of my white ancestors and my black ancestors. We can finally put at peace our place, all of us, in Australia.
“We can lift individual boats, but how do you lift the water? We don’t lift the water until we deal with the question, changing the narrative of our lives, empowering people in communities to make decisions about their destiny to give everyone a shot at it.”
Tanya Hosch, the AFL’s general manager of inclusion and social policy and former campaign director of Recognise, who spoke on the panel at the event said that when it came to diversity and inclusion, business needed to be serious about engaging with diverse talent.
“Diversity is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and we all talk about how great it is to have diversity, it makes good business sense, and makes for a richness that is compelling and we all say we want. But I don’t think we start from a position of truth about that,” Hosch said.
“I think that you have to work out, do you have diversity for the sake of saying you’ve got it? And by that I mean that I am frequently the only black fella around the table, and increasingly, one of the few women in this new world I am occupying.
“The reality is that if you are going to say that you want diversity, if you’re going to go to the trouble and expense of recruiting it, then actually engage with it for goodness sake.”
Panelist Glen Brennan, head of Indigenous finance and development at National Australia Bank, said it was time to recognise Indigenous talent and ambition.
“We need to find Indigenous people to be the manager or the state director of Victoria, for example. We want to climb to the top and be in charge of not just Indigenous programs, but all programs. We need our young Indigenous staff to have that ambition, and we need the corporates to actually look to embrace that,” Brennan said.
Diversity Council of Australia CEO Lisa Annese said: “The oration was a valuable and thought provoking discussion of the need to come to grips with Australia’s past if we are to change our future. We can all play our part to keep the conversation going and work together to create change.”
The oration was sponsored by BAE Systems Australia.